Cheating on Your Loneliness Molly McGlynn

My leather pants were bunched around my knees as I squatted over a dirty bar toilet in the type of stall where “Sam & Krista 4ever” are etched out on the walls next to “Sarah L. is a SLUT” and “Call (insert number) for free blow jobz”. Written in a faded black pen that was on its last legs, I saw it scrawled out in tiny, meagre handwriting: “Don’t cheat on your loneliness.” I pulled my pants up, left the stall and washed my hands (no soap left, ew) while staring into the dirty, foggy mirror at myself.  Don’t cheat on your loneliness. 

I said goodbye to my friends, most of whom are in various forms of couplings, and walked out of the bar, warmed with overpriced bourbon cocktails and headed home, alone. I thought about calling or texting someone (usually a man) who would make me feel better. An ex, a new crush, an old booty call – you know, any bad idea would fit the bill. I put my phone in my purse like it was a weapon of mass destruction waiting to go off and looked around the streetcar at the people I currently shared the same space with. I saw a guy that smelled like Listerine drunk, leaning his head against the dirty window, muttering someone’s name to himself over and over. I saw some pimply teens drinking a (likely) stolen beer in a brown paper bag in anticipation of when they’ll get to grope each other, a good-looking guy in a black pea coat probably on his way to his girlfriend’s house. This is my human company at this moment.

I walked up my street in the cold and felt that itching, burning sensation. You know, that clamouring, aching, I don’t want to be alone feeling. I went outside to my balcony to smoke where I looked at the circus-like lights of the iconic Toronto Honest Ed’s department store that peeked through the naked birch trees, quivering in the late fall air. Smoking didn’t really feel good. It felt like something to do. At any minute, one of the raccoons that continuously shits on my back patio would probably arrive to do its daily marking. I put it out. Gross. You too, raccoons. I hate you.

For anyone who sees me from afar, they probably presume I am someone who is, quite luckily, surrounded by people that care about her. Thankfully, I am one of them. I have wonderful sisters, incredible friends and generally can charm most new people upon first meeting. Despite this, I have always felt a little bit alone. Even in relationship I have felt this way. It’s this feeling that they too will go. Maybe at the end of the night, maybe in a year, maybe forever. The threat of loss and absence hangs over the space between me and the arm around me and I can’t shake it. Some very important people in my life are gone. Some by death, some by choice, and some by reasons I can’t explain. Paradoxically, this has also led me to love the hell out of everyone I meet. I thrive off of the excitement and beauty of meeting a stranger. What can we be? Friends, lovers, accomplices, bank robbers? I love it. It keeps me going, even if I never see you again.

I come back inside, take off my coat and lie in bed. I think of all the people closest to me in my life who are probably curled up next to someone or at least in the same house as them, and I feel both a little bit more sad that I am on my own, but also happy that those I love are with someone who sees them and accepts them without condition or time stamp.  I called my sister, who always takes my calls between bathing her children and taking the dinner out of the oven (after coming home from work), and told her how alone I felt. Nothing makes it go away. She listened to me and comforted me that she once felt that way, too. We chatted, and then she hung up. She went back to her life and I went back to mine.

I lay in the silence of my bedroom and sit in the horrible, terrible, bone deep discomfort of being unabashedly alone. This type of loneliness may always be in me, and you, even if I find myself sharing a bed with someone with which we promise each other a lifetime. The more I sat in it, the less afraid and less empty I felt. Think about how much your mother loved you. Think about how much your father loves you (complicated). Think about how many fires your sisters would walk through to protect your heart from being broken one more time. Think about all the late night calls your best friends have taken and listened to you, no matter how trite. Think about the ideas in your head. Think about the movie you just made. Think about the people who have read some things you’ve written about and told you it made them feel a little less alone and less afraid. Think about the people who have seen something special in you and hired you. Think about the adventures you’ve had, the strangers who carried you through a tough moment on a leap of faith. Think about the time you laughed so hard wine came out your nose. Think about what it feels like when you see a movie or a play or a work of art and for a minute, everything is suspended in that moment of transcendent and elusive beauty. Think about all the stories you have. Think about all of the stories you are yet to tell. These things will never leave you.  The space of what or who has left you only makes room for what needs to come. Thank them.

I have cheated on my loneliness in a million different ways a million different times. Though my sense of aloneness may have been temporarily numbed, nothing can protect you from the solitary, human truth that despite the routine of our lives and the time spent behind screens, we are all alone. That’s depressing you might say. It’s really not. If it weren’t for that fact, we wouldn’t fall in love, or have families, or write letters to our grandparents, or make new friends or keep reaching, reaching, reaching.

My room was so quiet it sounded like it was buzzing. Just as I fell asleep, my phone woke me up. I chose not to look at it.

I closed my eyes knowing that tonight I was loyal to my loneliness. And I felt grateful.

P.S. This song, guys. This song.

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  1. “I have always felt a little bit alone. Even in relationship I have felt this way. It’s this feeling that they too will go. Maybe at the end of the night, maybe in a year, maybe forever. The threat of loss and absence hangs over the space between me and the arm around me and I can’t shake it.”
    I’ve discussed this feeling too many times with my best friend, and I always feel comforted when more people announce it rather than deny it. I’d hate to admit that I might be a pessimist at times, but I just don’t know how to convert that deep emotion into an active call for potential friendships or relationships. I immediately jump to the final conclusion: “What’s the point? Everything ends anyways.” But the next time I shy away from strangers, i’ll remember this post. Thank you for writing such a sincere piece that, as I often forget, every one can relate to.

  2. As always, thank you, Molly. It is a selfish hope of mine that in 2014 you write more often. I always find something in your words that speaks to my insides. Perhaps it’s because as a vagabond actor, I’m constantly embarking on new adventures, meeting new people, forming new bonds, ephemeral though they may be. But I do believe that loneliness is a constant in those adventures, alongside the constancy of change, that goes hand-in-hand with the life I’m leading presently. Blah blah blah.

    You bare yourself beautifully, and for that I’m always grateful.

  3. uhmmm hi we should be best friends. I can connect to what you are saying on such a deep level. I just moved to LA…a recent film and video graduate. I often feel so alone in this huge place, having no idea what I am doing. Sometimes I feel like my dreams are too big, and wonder why I chose to move to this unknown place. But I thrive off a challenge, I jump at the anticipation to meet new people. But these transitions have always been difficult for me and I find myself, often, alone. Alone in my apartment next to my craigslist side table. I’ve thought of a million ways to cheat on my loneliness because I hate it, but maybe I just need to accept it.

    Thanks for this post.

    • I don’t think your dreams are too big. Perhaps your sense of fear is deceiving you into thinking so. You are really brave for moving to LA. You got this. Bonus, L.A.’s climate is less likely to cause Seasonal Affective Disorder than Toronto. Win!

  4. This explains a lot of what I’m living right now. Just 3 months ago I started to study in another country/continent and is my very first time living completely by myself. Since then, loneliness has been part of my day-to-day life. I have the same feeling you explained when I’m in my room at night and the silence is so big that its kind of too loud to handle (sounds weird but yeah, that’s how I feel), I bought a radio and I leave it on all the time because it makes me feel better. Yeah, is nice to spend time with yourself and think about your life or even nothing at all. But, sometimes is too much of lonely time for me, and its hard, specially with my family and friends so far away. I guess this is all within the process of living on your own and dealing with yourself in a different perspective. Thought I dont think I ever cheated on my loneliness (love the phrase) I have learned so much about myself. But as long as we don’t feel comfortable being alone, we would never stop feeling that way. Mabe im wrong..i dont know

  5. Yay Toronto! Great article! Totally understand about everyone is alone and how sometimes it’s better to just give in to that feeling and have some alone time to reflect and enjoy the silence instead of the noise of every day life. Thanks for writing this!

    • Thank you, fellow Torontonian I’m guessing? Yes, stopping to hear to silence is good. But then you gotta dance to Beyonce or something.

  6. This is a fabulous article and perfect for me to hear right now. I’ve had to navigate life in a fairly alone state for the majority of it with not so supportive parents, friends with long term partners, extensive singledom and for the last 2 years up till a month ago, a boyfriend across the Pacific, which is a really big ocean for those who’ve never had to cross it. It’s really hard, especially with friends who don’t understand it and the decisions you make (and lower standards . . .). It’s just nice to know that I’m not alone . . . in feeling alone. I hope the future I’ll get a little less lonely, but until then I’m going to enjoy being able to do whatever the fuck I want. This is the luxury afforded by us lone wolfers. I can go to bed at whatever time I want, go to as many dance classes as I feel like and knit scarves on a saturday night.

  7. I have always said that I hoped I was the last to die of all the people I love because I’m the only one that knows how to be alone. I’ve felt my alone-ness for the majority of my life, even with the most AMAZING friends and family, and one decent long-term relationship. I left the bar the other night early, leaving my friends and their other halves to keep partying on, so I could go be alone too, but not in a negative way. Thanks for writing this.

    • Yea, man. Sometimes you’re just like, “I’m out!” and it’s great. Generally, I just go get some pizza and lie in bed and watch Homeland and I LOVE IT. Like a grown up timeout. I get too maxed out if I’m around people all the time.

  8. This was inspiring thanks so much! Have a happy christmas.

  9. I feel like someone’s been spying on my ponderings.

  10. That song. I feel like I can’t go on without it now. Thank you.

    Also, thank you for this article. I’m currently going through the brunt of being alone. I try often to explore it, but especially right now, it’s painful and messy. I needed this article, to be honest. I’m glad I found it.

    • I’m so happy you read it and liked it. I hope it left you with a happy feeling. Sometimes I worry things I write come across too mopey. I think there is beauty in acknowledging your solitariness. It ends up connecting you deeper to those that you come across. Hope things start to look up for you. Do you know anyone with a trampoline? Seriously, that cures all.